Time Trials: ELDs and our experience so far

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TORONTO, Ont. — Three months in, the worst of the American ELD rollout is probably behind us. Some fleets have discovered that the devices they bought at the very last minute didn’t work as advertised. Inspectors were flummoxed by some devices, unable to determine if they were electronic logging devices or automatic on-board recording devices (AOBRDs). Many drivers weren’t much help in trying to sort out the differences. We learned, quickly, that the available parking in many rest areas would be gone by six o’clock, and saw many examples of shipper apathy to trucking’s new reality.

All in all, the rollout went pretty much as expected.

Fleets and drivers already using electronic logs when the U.S. ELD mandate came into effect on Dec. 18 hardly noticed the day flip over on the calendar, except if they were changing from AOBRDs to the new technology. There were some reported hiccups with non-functioning devices, even from a couple of major suppliers.

Those with the benefit of experience had already made the necessary adjustments to their operations to accommodate the hard-stop tracking of drivers’ hours. Those that had not learned that the 14-hour rule can be a real pain in the neck. Other lessons learned included a 30-minute break must last at least 30 minutes, not 28. And no longer could drivers move their trucks from the back of the lot to the front row on a rainy morning to grab breakfast before starting their day.

“Some of our drivers were taking too short a break,” says Jinder Singh, owner of PMKC Transport in Abbottsford, B.C. “It’s a small detail, but it put the driver in violation. I also had to rethink some of the scheduling to give the drivers time to get parked at night. They can’t wait until the last minute anymore.”

Singh, like many other small fleets, got onboard late in the program, and basically had to learn on the fly.

“Many fleets waited until the last minute to adapt, hoping or expecting the rule would be set aside, at least temporarily,” says Mike Davies, vice-president of product management at Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont.-based BigRoad. “That didn’t happen of course, and many were left scrambling even though we had two years to prepare.”

For the fleets that did start early, the December transition was less eventful, though it still came with a few surprises. P & B Transport of Saint-Léonard, Que., got a one-year jump on the mandate, but it’s heavily exposed in the U.S. northeast, where traffic is dense and parking is scarce.

“Mostly we do shorthaul, and drivers in this segment don’t maximize their driving time, unlike longhaul drivers,” said Brian Telford, P & B safety and compliance manager. “Drivers found they had to leave earlier in the morning and they were coming home later. We had to increase the pay, so the new payday matches the old payday. Since the drivers started leaving earlier, the cargo had to be ready earlier. For this we had to buy more trailers, and we also needed more space for these trailers, and subsequently more city drivers, city trucks, and office staff.”

With all the change wrought by the ELD mandate, Telford says he’s glad he started early.

Shawn Baird, president of Sharpe Transportation in Ayr, Ont., started early as well, back in June. He started his rollout five trucks at a time, beginning with the more tech-savvy drivers. Once they figured it out, they started explaining it to the other drivers.

“I’d say it’s been positive for about 95% of our drivers,” says Baird. “On the positive side, all the form-and-manner violations have vanished. The downside is there’s no more discretionary time for drivers.”

The driver experience

Driver opinion on ELDs has run the gamut since mid-December. Like fleets, drivers who got onboard early reported the fewest difficulties.

Jared Spiegelberg of Oliver, B.C., hauls rock-and-roll tours. He says the big tour organizers got together last year with the promotors and managers to start planning for ELDs. With all the acts touring these days, scheduling can be a problem, and occasionally there’s a problem with one act loading out when the other waits to load in. “If we’re on the clock, we sometimes have to hire local drivers to move the trucks from the staging area to the venue, but that’s as bad as it gets, usually,” he says.

“We have no problems on the east coast where the venues are pretty close together. Sometimes on a tight leg in the west, we’ll run a team and fly the extra driver in and out when we must.”

Hilberto Mendes of Pickering, Ont., has always had an electronic log and wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s been good for the bottom-of-the-list drivers who get all the sticky loads,” he says. “When the ELD went in with this company, the drivers just sent a message, “will violate HOS”, and everything changed. Mendes say he once received a warning in New Brunswick because he couldn’t sign the log-on screen.

Henk Posthumus of Abbotsford, B.C., is an independent owner-operator with his own customer base. He was new to ELDs when he began in December, but has quickly grown to love them. “I have always run legal, but now I find I have more hours available than with paper because the e-log tracks by the second,” he says.

He reports problems with a few shippers, especially those associated with brokered loads. “The load brokers still don’t get it, and some of those shippers need to become a lot more efficient,” he says. “I’m seeing rates coming up. I don’t know if it’s just the economic climate and tight capacity or if the ELDs had something to do with that, but I’m not complaining.”

Paul McLellan, a veteran driver based in Truro Heights, N.S., is no fan of the devices, but says he’s getting used to them. “I’ve learned that 15 minutes here or there can make the difference in getting home or not,” he says. “I know I do, and I think a lot of other drivers are driving faster now, and nobody hangs around the restaurants anymore. Just don’t have the time to enjoy a meal.” McLellan says he has never had his ELD checked at a scale. “As soon as they see the e-log sign on the door, they just wave us through.”

Shelley Uvanile-Hesch, a driver at Sharp Transportation and CEO of the Women’s Trucking Federation of Canada, has noticed ELDs seem to have brought into the open many drivers’ lack of complete understanding of the hours of service rules. “Many drivers — and shippers, too, for that matter — don’t seem to understand that being off duty doesn’t stop the clock,” she says. “I think it’s been a period of reckoning for some drivers.”

She says drivers and dispatchers need to plan better and leave more time for probable delays like weather and traffic, especially on the eastern seaboard. Longhaul drivers don’t have the same issue as the shorthaul drivers, where there’s more possibility of something going wrong, she notes. “I could see ELDs being beneficial in the long run, but I don’t see them making the roads any safer. I do think they will bring out everything that’s wrong with the current [hours of service] rules, so maybe we can get them fixed, finally.”

So what can Canadians learn from the American ELD rollout when our turn comes?

Fred Fakkema, vice-president of compliance at Seattle-based Zonar Systems, laughs at the question. “Take a few lessons from what went wrong in the U.S.,” he urges. “The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration enacted the rule two years ago, but they were not prepared to support vendors and enforcement until just a couple of months before the December deadline. The ability to validate the file transfer was done until just before the stroke of midnight; training for enforcement was left to the last minute. I’d say FMCSA fell short on some very critical parts of the implementation and I hope Canada learns from that.”

ELD enforcement in Canada

Canada does not yet require electronic logging devices, but we do have drivers using the ELDs in Canada — along with the previous generation of technology known as automatic on-board recording devices (AOBRDs). And we have lots of drivers who don’t operate in the U.S. still using paper logs.

Despite the potential for confusion, Kerri Wirachowsky, director of the Commercial Vehicle Alliance’s roadside inspection program and a former Ontario Ministry of Transportation inspector, says she has heard of no issues related to ELDs operating in Canada.

“Canadian inspectors are used to AOBRDs as they are currently an acceptable means of documenting HOS for Canadian drivers,” she says. “The ELD is required to display the graph grid which any Canadian inspector should be able to navigate through on the device.”

Mike Davies, vice-president of product management at Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont.-based BigRoad, says he hasn’t seen any confusion in Canada between working with either generation of the devices. “Most Canadian enforcement officers have not been trained on ELDs,” he notes. “Much of the data output is the same, although there’s more data coming from an ELD than is required with AOBRD.”

To date, there is no way to deliver an electronic record of duty status (ERODS) to Canadian enforcement teams because they don’t have the web application or related program. However, according to Wirachowsky, a couple of provinces are in the process of obtaining the software for a trial, to better understand what the files do and how they appear. “This is for trial purposes only,” she emphasized.

  • This story has been updated to reflect the proper spelling of Sharp Transportation. Today’s Trucking regrets the error.


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Jim Park was a CDL driver and owner-operator from 1978 until 1998, when he began his second career as a trucking journalist. During that career transition, he hosted an overnight radio show on a Hamilton, Ontario radio station and later went on to anchor the trucking news in SiriusXM's Road Dog Trucking channel. Jim is a regular contributor to Today's Trucking and Trucknews.com, and produces Focus On and On the Spot test drive videos.

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